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The Massacre and Rape at Nanjing

Info: 1785 words (7 pages) Essay
Published: 8th Feb 2020 in History

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As explained by J.L Margolin in the article, “Japanese Crimes in Nanjing, 1937-38”, for the Chinese the rape of Nanjing was a genocide of substantial magnitude. Although universally historians agree that Japan had committed several atrocities to the Chinese between December 13, 1937 and January 1938. Many Japanese officials continue to deny crimes committed by the Japanese army or at least attempt to lessen the scale of atrocities that they admit to committing. Some extreme denialists that I will discuss later in this paper, such as Takemoto and Ohara, believe that Nanjing was completely fabricated. The atrocities that were committed by the Japanese include the rape of 20,000 Chinese civilians (which was primarily women but also included men, children, and elders) and also approximately 300,000 individuals were murdered by the Japanese army. Unlike Ohara and Takemoto, many Japanese officials will admit that rape and murder did occur in Nanjing, but on a much lesser scale than revisionists have claimed (Margolin, 2006). 

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There are five particular aspects of the Nanjing atrocities that Japanese officials will deny as explained by E Neaman in his article, “The Rape of History: Nanking and Japanese Denial.” The deniers, the Japanese officials, believe that the number of individuals murdered in Nanjing was an exaggeration. In particular they target the inconsistency of the reported values as well as the claim that around 300,000 were murdered. They criticize the credibility of eyewitness reports, and that “none of the western civilians have claimed to witness the Japanese committing atrocities in Nanjing.”  Deniers will dismiss, corpses lying on the street, as evidence that Japan was committing large-scale atrocities in Nanking. Many officials deny the intentionality of murders occurring in Nanjing and claim that the Japanese were never ordered to purposefully murder the Chinese. Lastly they deny that any Chinese women were raped in Nanjing, let alone 20,000.


To many Japanese the number of individuals murdered is controversial. Authors Yasuo Ohara and Tado Takemoto in their book, “The Alleged “Nanking Massacre”:  Japan’s Rebuttal to China’s Forged Claims,” compare the extremities of victims murdered in the massacre. Based on their charts only 50 victims were murdered in the safety zone in 1938. While based on the Nanking district court in 1946, 340,000 Chinese civilians were murdered. They believe that since numbers are so inconsistent that the massacre could not have happened, and the numbers were forged. They also claim that 340,000 individuals could not have been killed in Nanjing since its population was no more than a quarter of 1 million (Yasuo Ohara and Tado Takemoto, 2000).

Iris Chang in her book, “The Rape of Nanking:  The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II,” dismisses the denier’s claims on the number of individuals murdered because reports show that the population in Nanjing was closer to 1 million. Therefore, it would definitely have been not only possible but probable that around 300,000 Chinese civilians were murdered. This ratio may seem farfetched, but it is certainly not especially when considering that during the holocaust every two of three Jews were killed. In the case of Nanjing it would be roughly every one out of three people.  Chang reinforces this idea and explains that historian Sun Zhaiwei”s in his 1990 report, “The Nanking Massacre and the Nanking Population,” states that according to the population in Nanking was one million before conflicts had risen in Nanjing. Zhaiwei based this value on census reports from the time period. Sun also utilized Chinese burial records and estimated that 227,000 individuals were killed. Ohata Hsiao a member of the Japanese army admitted to burning and or disposing of bodies for 3 days beginning December 15, 1937 and he estimates that 150,000 individuals were disposed of in those few days alone. This would likely mean that the 340,000 is a fairly accurate value when you consider both values. Also, one cannot criticize inconsistent numbers, especially ones that were reported 8 years apart. The value of 50 was likely in an inaccurate report to begin with but also was a report created early in Nanjing before much of the killing had been done. If the values were forged they would probably all be the same to emphasize that the event did happen. This is the same case argued by Shermer and Grobman for the Holocaust who note that not all sources report a value of 6 million Jews murdered. Rather every source provides values near to that value as it should be because not everyone’s historical analysis is equivalent in his strategies and outcomes (Chang, 1997).

As noted by Neaman the Japanese deny two particular witness reports. They discredit the testimony of Lu Su who claimed that he was a witness of the murder of over 50,000 Chinese civilians. He stated that the Japanese army bound the Chinese to metal barb wires, shot them in the back of their heads, and either had lit their bodies on fire or dumped them in the river.

The Deniers claim that he claimed this took place at night time and so Su would not have been able to give an accurate estimate of the individuals killed. They also believe that the process of tying the Chinese to wire would have taken too long and given them an opportunity to rebel.  The Japanese also discredit the report of John Rabe, chairman of the safety zone committee, who reported that around 60,000 individuals were killed, but reported two others different values the same year. He was the individual who reported the value of 50 early on in the massacre. They also explain that there were fifteen western witnesses who were part of the safety zone committee, and none of them ever admitted to witnessing the murder of Chinese civilians by the Japanese (Yasuo Ohara and Tado Takemoto, 2000)

The Chinese will discredit the Japanese using Rabe’s eyewitness report. Not because his values were necessarily inaccurate but because of the fact that he left early while much the massacre had yet to take place. And in contrast to the Japanese claims about the westerners, Chang quotes those Americans who the deniers speak of. American journalists Archibald Steele, Frank Durdin, and Yates McDaniel state that they were witness to the Japanese forcing thousands of Chinese people to line up and then fall to their knees. The Japanese would then shoot each individual in the back of the head and dispose of their bodies in the nearby river (Chang, 1997).

The Japanese dismiss the bodies on the streets of Nanjing as evidence of the massacre. They explain that there were many bodies on the streets even before the Japanese occupation of Nanjing. They provide reasons for the bodies such as the Chinese army shooting anyone who would try to escape the war. They also believe the corpses were individuals who were shot because they looked distrustful since the Chinese military were ordered to do so to maintain order (Yasuo Ohara and Tado Takemoto, 2000).

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Chang, who had cited several credible books on the Nanjing massacre, explains that the Japanese did in fact massacre the Chinese on the streets and did not always bury bodies do to the large quantity of individuals murdered in a short time spans. Chang even expands upon this thought and explains that many of the Chinese were victims of torture by the Japanese military, these methods include running individuals over, killing them with German shepherds, and freezing people until they died from hypothermia (Chang, 1997).

Japanese officials deny that the army was ordered to intentionally murder Chinese individuals and that there is no official document that gives orders from higher ups to execute this procedure. If there was no document showing orders to kill the Chinese than how can one prove that there were any orders at all? They also believe that there was no motive for the Japanese to murder the Chinese, and if any Chinese were murdered it is because they did not “follow the orders given by the Japanese military” (Yasuo Ohara and Tado Takemoto, 2000).

While there were no documents that showed written orders that does not mean that verbal orders were not given. There were no documents of Hitler ordering the Nazi’s to exterminate the Jews during the Holocaust. However, this is no evidence that there were not orders given. Chang explains that there were also killing contests that took place between the Japanese soldiers and quoted a Chinese witness that heard the Japanese soldiers order one another to count the number of Chinese they kill. Also, remember that Japanese tortured Chinese civilians, how can one do that without intent? (Chang, 1997).

The Japanese believe that rape on a large scale could not have occurred since most of the army had not been allowed near Chinese women who were in the safety zone. Except for the seventh regiment which was made up of less than 2,000 Japanese soldiers (Yasuo Ohara and Tado Takemoto, 2000)

Chang quotes Susan Brownmillor who explains that aside from the rape of Bengali women by the Pakistan army, the rape of Nanjing was the worst mass rape during a period of war in history. She also explains that the Japanese often ignored the safety zone and often went there anyway. They often forced incest among the Chinese, and they also would rape women in large groups. So that is what may contribute to 20,000 although telling the exact number would be very difficult.


  • Chang, Iris. (1997). The Rape of Nanking:  The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II.  New York:  Basic Books.
  • Margolin, J. L. (2006). Japanese Crimes in Nanjing, 1937-38: A Reappraisal. China Perspectives.
  • Neaman, E. (2002). The Rape of History: Nanking and Japanese Denial. Retrieved from https://phdn.org/negation/gravediggers/gom-2002-nanking_japanese_denial.html#_ftnref5
  • Takemoto, Tado and Ohara Yasuo. (2000). The Alleged “Nanking Massacre”:  Japan”s Rebuttal to China”s Forged Claims.  Tokyo:  Meisei-sha, Inc.


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